Crossing Cambodia

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Getting around: Koh Kong

Travelling in and around Koh Kong township: better off with a (speed) boat

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chasing Cars Cambodian Style, 24 January 2008

Updates on last weeks Chasing Cars.
  • 'Crackdown Creates License Plate Demand'.
    A lesson to us all: if the police start enforcing anything, it automatically leads to a reaction. Despite it being illegal to drive around (either with motorbike and / or car) without license plates, motorbikes are now being checked on, not cars. Two hundred motorcycles had been confiscated leading to
    'more than 1,300 motorcycle owners applying for plates'.
    Phnom Penh's Municipal Police Chief:
    'Our activities are to strengthen traffic laws and prevent criminal acts'.
    Oddly enough it seems the police are just an act of the criminal play: to get confiscated motorcycles back from the police requires a $20 bribe, the Cambodian Daily (January 17, 2007) alleges. Police of course deny this. And the nation's Traffic Safety NGO, Handicap International? A spokesperson prefers
    'if police focused their efforts on cracking down on individuals without driving licenses rather than those without plates. ... If they [offenders] apply for license plate, it doesn't mean that they can drive well. License plates are not really applicable to road safety'.
    Oddly enough, most would say the same of drivers licenses! How about applying the compulsory helmet rule? Or picking up dangerous drivers. Or ....
New news:
  • Dancing roads? Wrong, but if you drive some of the nation's roads (in this case Poipet - Siem Reap) you'll be the one doing the dancing:
    'It's named the Dancing Road for the way that people jitterbug around their cars while hurtling at top speed over potholes large enough to hide an entire cow [or a car is Crossing Cambodia's experience]. ... It takes roughly six hours to negotiate 150 kilometers, from the border to the next biggest city, Siem Reap. But the potholes, craters, dirt moguls and ATV-style jumps (really, our bus got at least two feet of air over some of these) are hardly the biggest obstacle. Every kilometer or two, the road just ends. ...
    It's part terrifying, part incredibly fun'.
    Admittedly these types of 'road' may well be the highlight of your stay. Be aware though, progress is just around the corner and in a few years ....
  • Khmer 440 forum again: areshole[?] khmer drivers and respondents slagging off the forum thread author. Author laments:
    'Why not put stop signs on the minor roads and at least attempt to slow the traffic?'
    One reaction:
    'Until there is any proper law enforcement here, it will always be the same as there is no incentive to make people change their habits'.
    Thread peters out after this:
    'I vote to use Mark [the author] as the speed hump, now that will slow-em down.
    Or maybe he should take his riotous self out to do the policing himself, HE HAS HIGH OPINIONS OF HIMSELF ABOUT MOST THINGS, block the road off with your tico-dinky [Tico being a Daihatsu Tico] mate, show em whose boss for christ sake and stop the sob stories.
    Welcome to the world of Cambodian forums for foreigners!
  • Investment in infrastructure: a bridge over the Tonle Sap might be built; 40 million dollars for road maintenance. All financially well off well-wishers, thank you!
  • Today's Cambodian Daily (January 24) in it's business section has a number of transportation relevant articles. The first of these reports on the impending changes to the nation's railways or better said the hopes and aspirations. Contracts have been signed to rebuild all existing lines in Cambodia. That's 600 km. To be completed in 2010, including a connection to Thailand via Poipet. Speeds would increase from 30 to 50 km/hr. Australian freight company Toll Holdings is currently negotiating a 30-yr concession agreement to
    'provide and operate new engines and rail cars on the improved rail lines'.
    They do need the improvement. An ADB consultant adds:
    'There's a derailment almost every day. The infrastructure is in really dangerous shape'.
    A proposed line to Vietnam remains in the pipeline.
  • Furthermore in the Cambodian Daily of 24 January 2008: on the riverfront the police are enforcing a rule to keep pavements free from obstacles, mostly haphazardly parked motorcycles and restaurant tables. But as this is Cambodia there are some problems with the enforcement:
    'One restaurant manager complained that a well-known Khmer eatery on the quay allows their customers' SUVs to block all but a half meter of the sidewalk.'
    Phnom Penh municipal police chief replied:
    'Land Cruisers may just park for a short time, not forever.'
    Well, that's a relief.
    'One street vendor, who sells skewered meat on the west side of Sisowath Quay, said police confiscated her food cart for a week [!] and demanded $20 for its return. Eventually she paid $5 and was told that next time police would take it for good, she said.'
    This enforcement was of course all according to last years traffic law which naturally makes no distinction between the rich and poor.
  • And then in the non-business news of the Cambodian Daily of Jan. 24: a report on all the youngsters taking over the job of traffic police. The article was a bit unclear, are more (traffic controlling youngsters) on the way, different ones coming in? Apparently there are students who work for the Red Cross which has vowed to continue the programme for
    'as long as the funds last'.
    They can't be so long then! Then there are scouts who are also students (getting paid twice?), who apparently stopped back in October (they had to go to school) but are going to be on the streets some time soon. Effectiveness of all these traffic wardens? According to a traffic police officer:
    'People seem to obey traffic lights more when the young volunteers [paid] are at the street corners.'
    Wonder what would happen if the traffic police did the same rather than dozing off under a tree? A girl finally scout adds:
    'They [the traffic offenders] said that I was too young to advise them'.
  • Finally for those pedestrian readers, please look out! Your sandals may just well contain a picture of Angkor Wat if you bought them in Vietnam. A mind-boggling story ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chasing Cars, Cambodian Style, January 17, 2008

  • Appearing for the first time on Cambodian roads: the Trabant. Two of them made the charity drive[!] of just six months from Europe to Cambodia, bravo! They just broke down 320 times! Wonder if the Trabant will catch on as easily as the latest Lexus models?
  • So you hear a siren and you are not fast enough to pull over? The official's goons will give you a lesson! Cambodian newspaper Koh Santepheap gets in the story. Here is the link provided by KI Media, complete with pictures of the beating! Just 23 comments on this article ...
  • Accidents happen on a daily basis in Cambodia, as everywhere in the world. Now why would a story of a drunken South African crashing in Cambodia be so worthy of both a newsarticle[by DPA] as well as 2 pages on the khmer 440 forum?
  • The same forum also goes into depth on what is the real Cambodian road menace: the
    'helmetless [foreign, CC presumes] “dirt Bike King”'.
    The forum does go someway at trying to implore foreigners in Cambodia not to be fooled by the local customs but to use what they learnt back home concerning safety issues.
  • The most recent issue of Asialife highlights (=free publicity) Infinity's Insurance Road Safety Initiative:
    'As any Phnom Penh resident or visitor can attest, the city's roads are nothing short of Chaotic, with seemingly little awareness of road safety. ... Only 3 percent of motorbike accident victims were wearing a helmet'.
    Infinity's initiative? They give away helmets via a radio station and
    'do not insure people who don't wear helmets'.
    How the former is done in practice is not clarified, their website does not mention it. Possibly somewhere in the small print it says if you are in a motorcycle accident, break your head with no helmet, you get no pay out [= not being insured].
  • Not often does Crossing Cambodia come across info for 'real' cyclists, but the Tales of Asia blog has an entry on 'Bicycle Safety'. Does the entry highlight your position at the lower end of the traffic chain? No, it's about handbags being stolen. What does the police do? They actually do something, they warn the owners to put locks on the baskets!
  • More cycling news: the Cambodian Cycling Club is '
    promoting bicycle racing as a sport'.
    But mostly they guide foreign tourists.
  • So besides resting under a tree or handing out leaflets to bicycle rent shops what are police up to? Khmernews mentions that they now all of a sudden have a drive to crack down on motorcycles with no driving plates.
    'More than 100 modern motorcycles with no plate number were detained, and checked by all seven district police, police said on 12 Jan 2008. The event followed some teenagers with no plate number motorbikes committed robberies around a few times in Phnom Penh city in 2008. After motorbikes were confiscated, the teenagers’ parents went to Phnom Penh Police Office in order to take their motors back. It was not known that whether the motorbike owners were found or educated. '
    What about cars? Roughly 1 in 10 of all cars has no license plate. Can we safely suggest that these cars might also be involved in
    'committing robberies'?
    Other enthusiastic police officials have
    'detained 93 imported pigs'.
  • An airport (Sihanoukville) that currently hardly functions is set to become 'Cambodia's largest'. This to channel in a never ending stream of tourists. Twenty percent growth is required annually, but where will they all stay?
  • And then finally an observation from a Malaysian visitor: '
    ... Unlike Kuala Lumpur, the traffic here is not heavy, but it’s crazy. People drive like there are no rules. They ignore traffic lights and the traffic police don’t seem to care.

    I never imagined riding a tuk–tuk would be such an adrenaline rush. We’d hang on for dear life as it swerved in and out of traffic. At times, we’d be facing oncoming traffic.

    Cars won’t stop for you when you cross the road. Instead they swerve to avoid hitting you. I felt it was like attempting suicide to cross the road. .... '

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chasing Cars, Cambodian Style, 16 January 2007

  • The price of oil is still high on the list of effects on the Cambodian traffic scene. Just before Christmas, The Cambodian Minister of Economy and Finance was quoted that he was
    'seeking to economize its [government] use of fuel'.
    But no concrete proposals, though opposition members suggested the initiation of city buses.
  • Then the PM wades into the debate by pointing to his own officials who
    'use government-provided vehicles and state gasoline for their private use'.
    Another article on the subject mentions:
    He did not say what the penalty would be for officials who failed to heed the new ban.
  • Politicians repeating themselves. In the pursuit of using less gasoline, Phnom Penh City governor has chosen to buy 3 buses in order to 'car pool'. Whether or not it is a first attempt to put a mass transport system in the Cambodian capital or whether it is intended for city hall workers themselves is unclear. It's also hoped that the 3 to-be-bought buses would relieve traffic congestion. That's strange.
    Previously the city governor had tried to exclude buses from Phnom Penh's downtown as this would help avoid traffic congestion (see CC posting 17 January 2007; the link to the original Cambodian daily article has gone dead). So why the turn around?
  • And what do the high oil prices really mean? A Vietnamese online publication mentions:
    'Petroleum smuggling to Cambodia from southern Vietnam's Mekong River Delta has been dramatically increasing recently.
    At the Tinh Bien border, it is estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 cans [of 20-20 liters!] of petroleum are illegally transported from Vietnam to Cambodia daily, ...'.
    However soundbytes from the Vietnamese Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry points to a possible decrease between future prices in Cambodia and Vietnam. Profit from the low prices while you can is the message!
  • More petroleum cutting: China is to provide 50 electric cars to Cambodia
    'to transport tourists'.
    Siem Reap be warned!
  • And then finally the holy grail of cost cutting. You want a road in front of your house, you pay for it yourself! Just like all those other hot shots, they have never sat back and waited for the government to black top their street.

    The scheme is called "Happy to join with us".

    Not all Phnom Penh citizens, though are happy:
    ' "Local authorities never care or solve residential matters," said a local resident who identified himself as Pheap. "We have problems with the poor drainage and flash flooding. We are ready to help, to repair the road and make a new drainage system, but they never come." '
    The initiator does somehow see some problems:
    ' "We have some problems with contributions from some local residents," Chamroeun [or Choeun who is deputy governor of Phnom Penh]said. "The living standards of people are not equal." '

Monday, January 14, 2008

Up-country Lao

An interesting signboard was to be read everywhere in Luang Namtha, northern Lao.

Despite the clear warning to tourists to stay on the right hand side of the road and Luang Namtha having just a couple of very broad and straight roads, accidents still happened (though not due to tourists!). In this case due to the (Asian?) habit of taking a left turn, and cutting the corner on the left side of the road, oblivious to what's coming round the corner. Another motorcycle was what was coming.

Helmet issue (not again?)

One thing the new year has brought about, is the realization that Phnom Penh is now the only Southeast Asian capital where motorbike riders are not compelled to wear their helmets. This after Vietnam recently began enforcing a law on helmets and earlier last year, the same happened in Lao. Both countries capitals are now awash with helmet wearing bikers, thus ensuring an increasing safety for oneself and attributing to an increased sensibility to the countries in general.

However this enforcement is not nation-wide enforced: in up-country Lao and Thailand, if you want to feel the breeze in your hair, no one (it seems) is going to stop you. So obviously there are issues here at stake concerning law enforcement; the further away you are from the centers of power, the less you might be compelled to stay in line?

In Hua Hin, Thailand, new year was heralded by forceful eastern winds. Fishers on it's pier resorted to wearing their helmets while fishing, a clear case of needing a helmet not to let your hair get messed up (or is it a new bit of legislation requiring fishers to wear helmets?)

Latest from Lao

During the end of the year break Crossing Cambodia was to be found inching itself up Lao's mountainous spine.

Relevance? Well, the fact that traffic in the Lao capital of Vientiane is so gentle and orderly. This for a country which not only borders the anarchical Cambodia as well as other well-known countries of unlimited personal traffic freedom such as Vietnam.

So how come? Are the Lao so different from the Khmer? Or have they put more effort into traffic (and safety) regulation?

Unseen in Cambodia: Vientiane residents line up neatly before a downtown traffic light. All motorcyclists have the helmets on!
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